The ethical desirability of moral bioenhancement: A review of reasons

  • Specker J
  • Focquaert F
  • Raus K
 et al. 
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Abstract

Background: The debate on the ethical aspects of moral bioenhancement focuses on the desirability of using biomedical as opposed to traditional means to achieve moral betterment. The aim of this paper is to systematically review the ethical reasons presented in the literature for and against moral bioenhancement. Discussion: A review was performed and resulted in the inclusion of 85 articles. We classified the arguments used in those articles in the following six clusters: (1) why we (don’t) need moral bioenhancement, (2) it will (not) be possible to reach consensus on what moral bioenhancement should involve, (3) the feasibility of moral bioenhancement and the status of current scientific research, (4) means and processes of arriving at moral improvement matter ethically, (5) arguments related to the freedom, identity and autonomy of the individual, and (6) arguments related to social/group effects and dynamics. We discuss each argument separately, and assess the debate as a whole. First, there is little discussion on what distinguishes moral bioenhancement from treatment of pathological deficiencies in morality. Furthermore, remarkably little attention has been paid so far to the safety, risks and side-effects of moral enhancement, including the risk of identity changes. Finally, many authors overestimate the scientific as well as the practical feasibility of the interventions they discuss, rendering the debate too speculative. Summary: Based on our discussion of the arguments used in the debate on moral enhancement, and our assessment of this debate, we advocate a shift in focus. Instead of speculating about non-realistic hypothetical scenarios such as the genetic engineering of morality, or morally enhancing ‘the whole of humanity’, we call for a more focused debate on realistic options of biomedical treatment of moral pathologies and the concrete moral questions these treatments raise.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Moral enhancement
  • ethical analysis
  • neuroethics

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